Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jim's Legacy

We are in San Diego where Jim is attending his 41st annual Society of Biblical Literature convention.  I noted that his name is not on the program listing this year.  No papers; no responses; no panels; no honors.  He does have three board meetings and, with five colleagues, is interviewing 11 candidates for a position at Notre Dame.  So he will be busy.

We went out for an early supper in the Gaslight Village area.  When we stood up to leave, the fellow at the next table stood up and introduced himself and his wife.  He thanked Jim for his help in gaining him a promotion several years ago.

As we walked back to the hotel, another fellow came up and introduced himself.  He told us that, as an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, Jim had changed his life.  He was an electrical engineering major and had taken Jim's Old Testament course as an elective.  Apparently Jim happened to meet him out on Hillsborough Street and said to him, "Why don't you take Hebrew too?"  That was it.  He loved it--and is now a dean for a consortium of divinity schools around Maryland.

Approaching the hotel, we met a former colleague of Jim's who hugged us and exchanged pleasantries about the children and grandchildren.  She thanked Jim for his "beautiful" contribution to a journal she was editing-a result of a rather controversial panel discussion at last year's convention.

So within an hour, Jim was thanked by three younger scholars for his help in their careers.  I am aware of Jim's students and former students at Notre Dame, but when we come to these conventions, I am always more aware of how much he has contributed to the larger academic community as well.

A postscript:  I went to an early morning worship service in which the theme was "Not to be Served, But to Serve."  Dr. Mark Strauss preached about Christ's model of serving which included empowering his disciples to serve.  He applied that to all the PhDs in the audience and, even though Jim was not there to hear or worship, I thought it was the story of his career.  He has never been too into himself, but always has been happy to encourage or empower others.

I did enjoy two very public hugs as two of his former students entered the worship space!  And also big, flirty smiles from the eight month old son of one of them!  Those were gifts to me!


  1. Such a nice post Mary; loved reading it. I know you also have had major effects on the students you have worked with.

  2. Mary, this is such a wonderful post! As a young scholar in a different field, I did not have the direct benefit of knowing Jim in the same as you described. But, somehow, Jim's open door to me, his encouragement, and his willingness to be completely invested and engaged in conversations inspired me. You offered that same openness and hospitality - Michael and I used to reflect on the salt and light that oozed from VanderKamp pores. At times when I was disillusioned with academia as a whole and viewed the faculty/life balance as unattainable, I would witness your lives and feel a sense of hopefulness. The waves continue (all the way to Santa Barbara:). Cynthia Smedley